Kids of all ages are coming out of The Giving Closet, a free community store, clutching pairs of new shoes and backpacks. Across the street, kids are getting haircuts while others wage a water balloon war against each other.
The activities are part of The Giving Closet’s Back to School Bash, where children from low-income families can get everything they need to feel confident on the first day of school — whether that’s a new look, an interview for a part-time job or a friend.
The store’s founder, Denise Currie, said she wanted every child to have the ability to pick out a new outfit for the first day of school and come to class with all the supplies they need, regardless of their parents’ income.
“To provide that, so that they don’t feel that crunch of poverty, might change their life and change the direction in their life,” Currie said.
The cost of a typical shopping basket of back-to-school supplies has increased by 5.45 percent over the past year, according to Pattern, a data science website.
Children dug through hundreds of shoes donated by Vans and backpacks of all kinds. A 4-year-old boy surveyed the options before reaching up to grab a Spider-Man backpack.
Two volunteers giggled to each other. “These children know exactly what they’re looking for. They find them under here,” volunteer Linda Schorr said, pointing to a stack of backpacks. “The cutest things I’ve ever seen.”
Currie said it’s important for the kids to not only have access to new clothes and school supplies, but also to have options to choose from. More than 600 backpacks sat on the tables on Tuesday morning.
“Having choice is so important because we all have tastes, we all have colors — it’s important to us,” she said.
The event also offered wraparound services, with Lifeline Connections giving out information on behavioral health services and Starbucks and Goodwill handing out job applications to parents or students looking for a part-time job.
Volunteer Elizabeth Meyer said the event is important for the parents and for the kids who attend.
“It’s not just the kids, though — it’s also the parents that are struggling to make ends meet in this terrible economy,” she said.
Marley Rodriguez tucked toothbrushes and toothpaste handed out by Vancouver Dental Office into her kids’ colorful backpacks as they pointed toward the looming water balloon battle across the parking lot.
She said her budget has been tight lately, but she wanted her children to have everything they needed for school so they wouldn’t feel left out.
Ryan Tabor dumped packages of new socks into boxes by the school supplies. He volunteered to help with the event because he and his wife were once homeless and got help from The Giving Closet.
“We’ve come to The Giving Closet in the past to get clothes that we needed, school supplies for our kids,” Tabor said. “And now that we’re doing good in our lives, it felt like the right thing to do to pay it forward and give back to the community.”
After losing major funding, The Giving Closet might not be able to host events like this anymore. It could close within five months.
A large private donor decided to use funds to invest in a new ministry, Currie said. A 10-year commitment that a business had given for a fundraiser had sunsetted.
The Giving Closet has usually raised about $20,000 annually through the Give More 24! online fundraiser that had been hosted by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, Currie said. But after the Community Foundation ended Give More 24! and partnered with the statewide GiveBIG fundraiser instead, The Giving Closet received about $1,000 in online donations, Currie said.
On top of all that, the store was declined a grant Currie thought it would receive.
Megan Forrest, who came to the event with three of her young children, worries about the possible closure.
She said she is in between jobs after losing her job due to epilepsy; she takes her children to the store to get clothes and toys.
“With the price of clothes, with the price of backpacks, we look for resources like this, and to have this available for us and to be taken away from us, we would all be devastated,” she said.
However, around $25,000 in individual donations has flowed in recently, Currie said.
The store’s goal is $90,000 in donations, although that only partially replaces the $230,000 gap from the loss in funds.
Currie is still looking for larger donors to replace some of the lost funds, but she said the individual donations are exciting. “It’s encouraging,” she said.
Clarification: This story has been edited to more clearly describe The Giving Closet’s funding challenges.
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